Following her lead…

Following the Lead of Your Preschooler at Home

As I continue to follow the lead of the child, I am back to the drawing board with Ladybug {age 4}. What worked for her last year, is no longer working and, it is time to change. I still like the current routine, curriculum, and plan I have, however, she isn’t thriving as she once was so I am back to the drawing board. I enjoyed rereading Developmentally Appropriate Practice for Homeschoolers {a guest post from Becky on my blog} to get my wheels spinning once again.

I have decided to not use any formal curriculum for Preschool or Kindergarten, and instead enroll her in Calvert 1st grade when I feel she is ready. This gives me a lot of freedom, and since she is a younger 4 {turned 4 in April 2013}.  I have plenty of time, we are in no hurry! I really want to enjoy these last early childhood years, it is truly my favorite time in a child’s educational life. We aren’t planning to have anymore children, so this is my last couple of years to fully engage and enjoy this time period with my youngest!

Wait ~ does that mean I might stop using my own preschool program?  Yup. Just because I made it, doesn’t mean it is right for her.  All kids are different and she isn’t thriving quite as well as Krash did.  It may be because I am a bit burnt out with it, since I use it for my 4-5 year old Children’s Church class too. Maybe I have lost my enthusiasm at home, I’m not sure if it’s her or me.  I used RRSP in my church class all last year and am in the second round now. Plus, she just joined my class as a 4 year old, so she is getting the lessons there! So, although it is hard for me, we might be putting away most aspects of RRSP.  I do plan to still use certain aspects of it, but the overall program might be taking a backseat.

{disclaimer ~ there are affiliate links below}

Home Preschool

In preparation to change things up, I made a list of things about her that stand out to me…

  • loves books, reading alone and being read to
  • loves anything with paint {Q tip painting, finger painting, anything.}
  • loves music, instruments, dancing, and being silly
  • loves playing independently for long periods, once she gets going
  • loves creative play {role play, dress up, etc.}
  • loves bugs, dirt, worms, & being dirty {see example above}
  • loves the letter of the week idea, and the abc basket collections
  • loves playing with tiny toys, the phonics box items are a big hit
  • does not like letter mazes, color by number, or “school” coloring anymore
  • like cutting, and is getting more into bigger cutting projects
  • loves anything with glue
  • loves puzzles
  • loves themes and most of the theme pack activities
  • does not have good social/emotional skills
  • loves ABC Find It, and Animal ABC letter crafts
  • enjoys her All About Reading Pre lessons
  • does not enjoy her workbox set up anymore
  • loves displaying and admiring her completed work
  • does not beg to do school anymore, will do it, but doesn’t beg like she used to
  • loves playing for long periods, alone or with me
  • loves crafts {mommy directed is a big hit}
  • gets very frustrated with transitions
  • loves feeling significant and included, longs to have responsibilities
  • loves surprises and doing little things with me {games, projects, art}
  • loves sensory bins, sensory play, play dough, shaving cream play, ANY messy play
  • loves learning apps, especially if I cuddle up and learn with her
  • is resistant to learning to read, even though she has the basic reading readiness skills.  the desire isn’t there so she isn’t ready yet
  • loves Montessori style activities
  • loves magnets and her cookie sheet
  • loves “calendar” time and the silly songs and games we play
  • isn’t as interested in “doing what her big brothers are doing” as she used to be

I am currently praying about our plan, I have a few ideas in mind, but am going to think, pray and plan slowly over the next few weeks.  Sadly, I already got what I thought we were going to do all printed and ready.  It is very hard for my Type A self to let go of the original plan, but I simply must,  I want my child to thrive and love learning.  I must practice what I preach, and follow her lead.

You can see a similar post to this one, that I wrote when she was 32 months old. I revaluate often to meet her current needs.  As you make your own plan, or revaluate your current plan, I recommend making a list similar to the one above, and one for yourself too!  It is about finding the balance between the child, the parent-teacher and the entire family’s needs during this season of life. If it isn’t working, some simple changes might make everyone happier. Just because it looks really great on someone else’s blog, doesn’t mean it will work in your home!

Ideas in my brain spin…

  • Read even more than we already do
  • Art daily, or some type of messy play {we usually do, but I need to up this for her}
  • Be more intentional with music play, and use our Laurie Berkner DVD more
  • Montessori at Home! ideas {we use them, but I think using them more would be good for her}
  • Spielgaben Educational Toys {reviewing soon, this looks like a GREAT fit for her interests}
  • Keep letter of the week, she loves this, keep All About Reading Pre also
  • Definitely learning app time with and without me, and online books.  Use We Give Books more.
  • Lots of sensory play, themed or not
  • Focused social and emotional skills time {she really needs work here}
  • Reorganize our learning materials and make Quiet Boxes {for her own independent school time}

I am still brainstorming and praying, stay tuned to see our plan!

Developmentally Appropriate Practice & Homeschooling

About a year ago I wrote a post entitled, “Following the Lead of the Child” and put a request out for other early childhood educators to help me with a post on Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Homeschool. I am excited to share a guest post with you today from Becky {This Reading Mama}. I asked Becky to collaborate with me for this post and am grateful to have another voice here on my blog sharing wisdom about this topic, I hope you find it helpful!Developmentally Appropriate Practice and Homeschoolers

When working with young children, the term "developmentally appropriate" comes to mind quite a bit. The National Association for the Education of Young Children {NAEYC} is the driving force behind the terminology and research. Anyone trained in early childhood education or working in the early childhood field certainly knows this term and is familiar with the NAEYC.

But what about homeschoolers? What about moms who are not trained and have never worked in this environment, but are now teaching their own young children at home? Well, this post is for YOU! I was introduced to the developmental approach while teaching at a Christian preschool. The new director at the time submerged me in all things Montessori. I devoured books, articles, videos, and toured Montessori schools with her. I was amazed at the things I saw and learned. The few years spent getting my M.Ed. in Elementary Reading further fueled my passion towards teaching with a developmental approach. Currently, I’m a homeschooling mom of four, and although no longer in the preschool or elementary classroom, teaching in a developmentally appropriate way drives my instruction at home.

What is Developmentally Appropriate Practice?

"As NAEYC defines it, developmentally appropriate practice (DAP} is a framework of principles and guidelines for best practice in the care and education of young children, birth through age 8. It is grounded both in the research on how young children develop and learn and in what is known about education effectiveness. The principles and guidelines outline practice that promotes young children’s optimal learning and development."

Broken down further, here’s an excerpt from the Key Messages of the DAP Position Statement:

  • Developmentally appropriate practice requires both meeting children where they are–which means that teachers must get to know them well–and enabling them to reach goals that are both challenging and achievable.
  • All teaching practices should be appropriate to children’s age and developmental status, attuned to them as unique individuals, and responsive to the social and cultural contexts in which they live.
  • Developmentally appropriate practice does now mean making things easier for children. Rather, it means ensuring that goals and experiences are suited to their learning and development and challenging enough to promote their progress and interest.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children holds the copyright for the quoted material above. 

Developmentally Appropriate Practice at Home

The NAEYC focuses on teaching children in a group setting, but how does this look at home? How do you know that you are teaching your young child{ren} in developmentally appropriate ways?

Here are a few of my thoughts about DAP in the home:

1. Follow the bent and interests of your child. Does your child crave structure and predictability? Does your child prefer using his own creativity as a springboard for learning? Maybe he wants to play all day long, but don’t miss the fact that play is rich with learning. What kinds of books or toys does he naturally gravitate towards? What kinds of questions does he ask you? These will show you what he is interested in learning. Research shows that if a subject is of high interest, the child will be naturally motivated to learn and accept challenges, with your support.


Recently, NJoy {4.5 years old} asked to play a math addition game on our iPad. At first I dismissed the thought, thinking that this game would be too hard for him. But he was extremely persistent, asking me to help him solve these problems {high interest}. I gave him some of our Learning Resources family counters, provided a make-shift addition "mat", and modeled it a couple of times. The look on his face was priceless as he got one after another correct. Any mom with multiple children knows that they are all very different creatures. What works like a charm for one child may be totally rejected by another. The ability to adapt for each child is key! In other words, one size does not fit all.

2. Your child can change from month to month and year to year. What was meaningful and worked one day may not the next. Again, flexibility is important. My daughter {currently 34 months} can be wishy-washy from one moment to the next! Some days, she wants nothing to do with the activities I have planned. But if I become her student in those moments, I am amazed at the things I learn from her. Most days, she wants to do everything her older brothers do; including worksheets or pocket chart games.

3. Your child shows you he is developmentally ready when he uses it, but confuses it. When a child uses a certain concept, but not in the conventional way, it’s HUGE clue that he’s ready to learn about it with your support. Not too long ago, I noticed my daughter was ready to begin learning letter sounds. How? "Mommy, cat starts with M. See mommy? /m/ /m/ cat. See it starts with M. Just like my name." She did this on several occasions with different letters.


So I began working on some letter M activities, emphasizing the letter sound {I’m sure the marshmallows helped: /m/-/m/ marshmallows!}. My son showed me he was ready to do some rhyming activities when he announced in the van one day, "Mommy! Sun rhymes with run and snake." Use, but confuse.

4. Your child displays boredom or frustration. If you’ve stepped out of the "zone" of developmentally appropriate, your young child will let you know! If he seems bored with the activity, it may be because it’s too easy for him. If she is frustrated and gives up, chances are you’re asking her to do something too hard for her. Children operating in their "zone" {also known as their instructional level or ZPD} are typically engaged and active participants in their own learning. Teaching in the "zone" means 1- the child has a basic understanding and interest in the activity and 2-it is just enough of a challenge for the child that he cannot do it by himself, but can do it with your help.

For example, my son knew all his letter sounds by 42 months. He asked to do schoolwork, like his big brother. So I developed a PreK reading curriculum for him called Reading the Alphabet that we’re working through this school year.

InitialSoundGame ColorbySightword

Anything on a Kindergarten level would have been too fast-paced and frustrating, but reviewing letters and their sounds for another year would have been dry and dull {for him and for me}. I created something to take him a step deeper, into his "zone".

5. The age {or grade level} of your child is not the only predictor of what is developmentally appropriate for him. While the age of your child can help you make general predictions about what he should learn, his own development has to be taken into consideration. It reminds me of a 3rd grader I knew confused her b’s and d’s when she wrote. The mom had been told by a well-meaning friend that her daughter should not be doing this anymore because, after all, she was in the 3rd grade. When I asked the mom a few questions, I discovered her daughter was reading and writing at a 1st grade level. Letter reversals are still very common in the 1st grade; so developmentally speaking, the child was doing exactly what writers do in that stage. Was it still an area of concern? Of course! But acknowledging the child’s developmental stage in regards to literacy was vital because it revealed more about her than age or grade level alone.

6. Developmentally Appropriate Practice goes well beyond academics. Anything {brushing teeth, riding a bike, getting dressed, etc.}, if taught outside of your child’s developmental zone, can be a source of frustration for you and your child. One of the practices I learned from developmental teaching is gradually releasing responsibility to the child. This means modeling and teaching in the zone {see #4} with lots of support; then gradually "releasing" the child to do it independently, with less support as she goes.  

What are Some Next Steps Moms Can Take?

  • Pray. Ask God to help you see your child as He does. God knows your child better than you. Ask him for wisdom in teaching this gift He has given you.
  • Humble yourself. Sometimes, it’s easy to get wrapped up in pride {ask me how I know}. When that lovely printable I’ve created is rejected by my son or daughter, it stings. When Suzy’s daughter is younger than mine, yet can already read; I begin to compare myself as a mother. Don’t go there.
  • Play. Take time to simply be your child’s mom instead of "teacher". Enjoy spending time with your child without a pre-planned agenda. You’ll be surprised at the things your child will teach you! Some of my favorite teaching ideas have come from playing with my children.

Developmentally appropriate practice is attainable for homeschooling moms of young children, even without formal training and experience. Many times, it’s as simple as becoming students of our children to see the whole picture. Instead of asking them to get into our neat, little prepackaged "box" of teaching, we need to unwrap their "box" to find the true treasures…their interests, their bent, and their zone. It’s what developmentally appropriate practice is all about.

Headshot-150Becky Spence is a homeschooling mama to four little blessings. She is passionate about teaching, specifically literacy. She is the author of This Reading Mama, where she shares reading and writing activities as well as free literacy curricula and printables. You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google +.

This post is #3 in my series, “Homeschooling Tots & Preschoolers,” for the iHomeschool Network Spring 2013 Hopscotch.  Visit other bloggers participating here!



Homeschooling-Tots-and-Preschoolers_Day 1 ~ Where to Begin with Tot School eBook

Day 2 ~ You Don’t Have to Do it All!

Day 3 ~ Developmentally Appropriate Practice

Day 4 ~ Time Invested in Tot Schooling

Day 5 ~ 10 Tips for Studying Nature with Tots

Day 6 ~ Exposure vs. Mastery

Day 7 ~ Why Themes?

Day 8 ~ Teaching Tots in a Large Family

Day 9 ~ Our Favorite Learning Tools for Tots

Day 10 ~ Early Childhood Theme Printables A-E

Behind the Scenes ~ Following the Lead of the Child

I thought it might be helpful to give you a peek inside of my heart and mind as Ladybug grows and I make decisions for her educationally.  The path we are on together is much different than the path I was on with Krash at this age and I am thankful that I now have experience with 3 different toddlers of my own to compare to better share experience with my readers. image

For those of you who don’t “know me” well, I graduated college with an Early Childhood degree with a certification in Birth-Kindergarten.  While in college I completed internships with a concentration on young children and also Montessori.  After college I taught public school Kindergarten for 4.5 years.

I have been writing an eBook for years, just have never felt God nudge me to pour the hours needed into finishing it.  I have published a portion of it, on my website, which outlines what I believe about educating young children. If you have read that, you will see that I don’t mention worksheets for tots in ANY way!!!  Then why in the world do I have a Tot Time Notebook, a Tot School Printables program with many “worksheet” type of activities, and now a new Animal ABC program with a set of worksheet extras?

The answer is very simple…I am following the child’s lead.


Ladybug shows interest in these types of things and even though I do my best to direct her towards toys, hands on experiences, and what I feel are more “normal” and developmentally appropriate tot activities-she gravitates towards a writing instrument and something to write on.  It is something I resisted at first but finally followed along and I have had a MUCH happier tot since then.

Most of my Tot Packs and Preschool Packs contain items that are more hands on.  An example would be the Heads and Tails matching game included in the Brown Bear Pack.  Ladybug would NOT enjoy this.  If it looks like cards or something more hands on-she resists.  However, if I put the same idea into more of a worksheet form-she embraces it and has fun!

She boggles my mind and has given me the ultimate lesson in following the child’s lead.  I used to think that meant holding off on stuff like this until later and not PUSHING the young child.  Now I also see that it can go both ways.  It also means not holding a child back.


Do I think Ladybug is some sort of genius child? NO!  She is very advanced in a few areas, and has been since early on.  She was “professionally assessed” when she was around 20 months {back when she was struggling with her walking and they were evaluating her for services}.  You can see her specific results here, noting that she scored highest and beyond her age in both cognition and fine motor-both areas she has continued to excel in.  She is in the normal range for language and is still below for gross motor.  I am certainly not pushing her, quite the opposite actually.  I don’t want my baby girl to learn too quickly-I love this early childhood stuff!  I want this stage to last as long as possible, she is moving a bit too fast for my personal taste to be honest!

Ladybug spends more time at a table than I ever thought possible for a tot.  She BEGS and even cries to do school if she hasn’t for a few hours.  To her-doing school means sitting at my desk with me and working with me, or by herself.  IMG_9622She created the term “doing school” now it has become a common phrase and request from her.  She hates days off and I will often allow her to “do school” on off days just to make her happy!

When Krash was a tot, I wrote a post entitled, The Advanced Tot, which addressed tots who were more like Ladybug and advancing beyond what their moms expected!  Now I have one of those and it is weird!!!   There are some really great comments from moms on that post too, so if you are intrigued by this topic, be sure to scroll down and browse!

Does Ladybug still play like a normal tot?  YES!  We are on the floor engaged much more than she is ever sitting and working at a table.  She LOVES to read and be read to, way more than the boys ever did-so we spend tons of time cuddled up with our noses in a book together.  IMG_3144

She really enjoys puzzles, play dough, blocks, sensory bins, stickers, painting, drawing, and more intricate fine motor activities.  A few hands on things she really enjoys…

IMG_8134  IMG_8090IMG_6382  IMG_8148IMG_4831  IMG_7080IMG_9744  IMG_7603IMG_4006  IMG_6557

This is also the little girl with 2 older brothers who she follows.  She sees them writing, so she wants to.  She sees them sitting, so she wants to.  She follows their lead and in turn I follow hers, while also trying to encourage her to stay young and enjoy the lovely things of tot-hood!IMG_6600

Part of the reason I wanted to take the time to write this post is because I used to be the mom with the wild and crazy tot who wouldn’t sit still to color, read, or anything at this age {that would be my sweet Krash}. Krash is now moving along at a very steady pace-not above or behind for his age.  I am very pleased with his progress and academic abilities! I also had a tot who wasn’t quite as wild and crazy {PacMan} but who still could have cared less about anything resembling school until well after age 3.  A tot who didn’t learn to identify letters until closer to 4, and didn’t draw a recognizable picture until almost 4 too!  PacMan wasn’t really into books, didn’t enjoy anything with a paper and pencil and much preferred the hands on world of toddlerhood.  He is now excelling in 4th grade!

When I was parenting the boys as tots, mostly Krash, I would read blogs of moms who had tots more like Ladybug and get a pinch of jealousy.  I never want anyone to read my posts about what Ladybug is doing and think that this is what I believe is correct, normal, or preferred for children her age.  When I wrote about Krash at this stage he fit right in the crowd, but now, I imagine I have a few readers who wonder if something is wrong with their own toddler who won’t go near a pencil and paper!  I assure you there is nothing wrong with your child-not simply because they aren’t interested in anything resembling what you would consider school!  Most tots prefer to be active, loud, and totally hands on.  Most tots learn best that way.  There are a few out there like Ladybug-some even way beyond her.  Those few prefer a different learning path and we just follow them.  It is a delicate balance to follow along while not pushing or holding back.  I pray that’s what I am doing for all 3 of my children and now especially Ladybug at this young age.

I know in this land online it is even more difficult than before to NOT COMPARE OUR CHILDREN, but really-don’t do it!  There is healthy comparison-just to make sure everything is OK, and then there is the type of comparison that makes you feel badly.  That’s the type I encourage you to stay far, far away from!  Let your own tot guide your path for Tot School in your home.  Gather ideas from others but don’t force them upon your tot.  There will be plenty of time in the future when your child will need to do undesirable school assignments!  It just isn’t that time yet at this tender age.

As homeschoolers, we are more able to follow the child’s lead.  In a classroom setting you follow the lead of the class as a whole and focus on what is developmentally appropriate for the age range you are working with.  At home, it is much different and this has been a difficult adjustment for me as a former early childhood educator.  I am so used to the “norm” and with Krash he followed that norm.  Ladybug is not the norm so following her lead is more of a challenge.  As you plan for your own tot, please remember to follow the lead of your own child.  Most important-have fun!

See more Behind the Scenes Posts here!

I have a post in the works going deep into Developmentally Appropriate Practice and what this looks like for us as homeschoolers!  Stay tuned if this sort of thing interests you!

If you are a certified/trained early childhood teacher with classroom experience AND homeschooling mom who is teaching or has taught your own young child{ren}, would you please email me?  I would love to get your thoughts on my upcoming post about DAP and homeschooling, and also ask you some questions!